By Vicki Greene, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Lt. Colonel Chris Payant and his family made the decision last summer that after 22 years on active duty as an engineer for the U.S. Army and most recently stationed in Germany, it was time for the family to move back the States. Payant said he knew he wanted to continue in public service and wanted to relocate to the Bay State so he applied and went through an overseas interview process via Skype for the position of Westborough’s Department of Public Works (DPW) Director. As such, he replaced longtime DPW Director John Walden who retired several months ago.
Payant has been on the job for approximately 90 days and said many of his military skills are transferrable.
“Army engineers do construction, build roads, put in bridges, build base camps and do some combat-related,” he said. “My resume doesn’t say anything about being a public works guy but project management and parts of engineering and the leadership aspect of being a manager, all translate. The leap to public works wasn’t a large one.”
“My interest was continuing in a profession where I could be serving,” he added. “I was looking for this type of job.”
Payant has four managers and 43 staff members in the DPW and he has spent much of his first three months talking with his staff, Walden, and colleagues in surrounding communities discussing best practices.
“I definitely am a subscriber to the ‘listen to what’s going and don’t do anything dramatic’ thinking because you don’t know as much about the position and organization as you think you know,” he acknowledged.
Payant is clear that he looks at his department in three buckets; first, delivering services; second, setting conditions including budgeting/planning; and third, staffing.
The town has started a staffing study which is something Payant said is something he looking at closely within his department. He said he has a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge with the current staff within the DPW but would like to see some of the procedures written down in “manual form so if and when people leave or retire, there’s a clear process for successors to review.”
Related to his third management “bucket” Payant said he has one area of concern.
“I can look at the books and see the town has grown substantially over the last decade or two and you look at the current number of department staff and I would hazard to guess the town staff probably hasn’t grown in proportion to the population and the services provided , if you look at it that way (additional) staff is probably a requirement.”
As for capital projects Payant noted, “All of our infrastructure, just like across the country, is now at the end of its lifecycle and in many cases people just say it’s all underground so nobody really thinks about it but it’s our job to do something about it.”
With the winter months and snow coming, Payant is not concerned about having the appropriate resources. He said the town has approximately 80 percent of the snow removal and road treatment equipment and 20 percent goes to contractors.
Settling into civilian life has had a few minor challenges. Payant said his kids are having to get used to their new schools which was expected coming from a military, transient school system but something stood out to him about Westborough during the interview process.
“I can remember telling my wife during the process and even after the first interview, seeing people’s reactions over Skype and the feeling I got when I was talking with people along with the nonverbal feedback was so positive and during the final interview as well… I felt like it was a group of people I wanted to be around.”